What's in The Deep, Dark Web?

Category: Reference

Every so often, the media likes to tell us a scary story about the spooky, dangerous “Dark Web” where criminals, terrorists, hackers, and spammers conspire to victimize all of us. The reality is a bit more balanced and not so scary. There is a “Deep Web” that you can't access with ordinary search engines, and a “Dark Web” where people lurk anonymously for both good and evil purposes. Read on...

What's Hiding in the Deep and Dark Webs?

Technically defined, the “Deep Web” is simply that vast portion of the Web that search engines don’t index. While Google, Yahoo, and other search engines can provide billions more Web pages than you can live to view, that still leaves over 90% of Internet destinations unsearchable. If you don’t know the URL (web page address), you can’t just “google” it. You have to find the “secret” URL another way, usually getting it from someone who knows it.

The majority of the Deep Web is unindexed simply because it’s uninteresting. Most of the Internet of Things fits into this category. Who really wants to google the URL of a light bulb, doorbell, or toaster? (See my related articles The Internet of Insecure Things and Things That Should NOT Be Connected To The Internet.)

There are also password-protected sites that are accessible only to those with memberships or subscriptions to the content stored there. If there's a lock on the door, search engines can't get in to index the pages stored at that location. Newspapers, professional journals, and research databases fall into this category. Many local government websites offer access to public records, such as real estate and legal filings. You can access them, often without a password, but these databases will not be indexed. That's because the search engine "spider" doesn't know what to do when it sees the search input box.

Deep Web and Dark Web

And then there are websites that perform dynamic, real-time queries for things like travel. You can go to Expedia and find out how much it will cost for a ticket from NYC to Miami on July 23rd, but the results won't be indexed by search engines, because they can change from one minute to the next.

And of course there are legions of websites that just have no useful content. They may be spammy, scammy, ripoffs or duplicates that will never appear in search results, because search engines have gotten wise to many of the tricks that black-hats use to "game" the search results. There are also websites that have no inbound links (links from pages on other sites) so search engines will never find them.

So the Deep Web isn't scary -- it's just a part of the Internet that can't be (or hasn't been) indexed by search engines, or pages that require human interaction to continue on to the desired content or search query.

The Dark Side of the Internet

But what’s out there in the dark parts of the Web? Yes, there are bad places, people, and activities; they’re part of what’s called the “Dark Web” or “Darknet” for dramatic effect. “The Silk Road” was one infamous criminal site where drugs, weapons, data, hacking services and all manner of illicit things were traded until the FBI arrested its owner back in October, 2013. Some referred to Silk Road as the Amazon.com of the underworld, because it made shopping for illegal goods so easy.

Ross William Ulbricht, 29, known by his hacker handle "Dread Pirate Roberts," was nailed on charges of narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Court documents allege that over $1.7 million in illegal money changed hands each month on The Silk Road. Other black market websites exist, but Silk Road was the best known.

Private forums exist where cyber-criminals offer services such as hacking, denial of service attacks, ransomware and phishing scams. There are images on dark web pages that you would wish to forget after seeing them. And certainly, terrorists use the Internet to communicate and collaborate.

Sometimes You Need to Hide

But there are also oases of light in the Dark Web that can’t be called dark by any means. They’re where the struggle for freedom rages.

Dissidents, journalists, peace activists, and other good guys often need to hide their activities from oppressive governments and other institutions. Many citizens of totalitarian nations cannot freely access uncensored news or trade opinions and facts about politics or corruption. Some of these people turn to the Dark Web, to hidden forums, sites, and servers of information that protect their secrets and identities.

One of the most popular privacy tools is called Tor. Tor is, essentially, a network of Web proxy servers and browser software designed for them. When using the Tor browser, your identity and location are obscured and your connection to the Tor network is encrypted. Even your ISP doesn’t know where you’re really going because they can’t read the data stream that passes between you and the Tor proxy server. All anyone knows is that you accessed a Tor server.

Your requests for Web content go to a Tor server, which then reaches out to grab the requested content and relay it back to you over that encrypted connection. The destination site sees the Tor server’s location and ID but never yours. Theoretically, there is no way to tell what you accessed via a Tor server.

So the Dark Web is actually a mixture of light and dark, good and evil, benefit and harm. It’s symbol might well be the Yin Yang which illustrates how opposite forces can be interconnected and intermingled.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "What's in The Deep, Dark Web?"

Posted by:

Michael D Cowing
09 Jun 2017

Very nice exposition on the "dark web", a topic I had not seen addressed. Nice work and very helpful. thanks Bob.

Posted by:

09 Jun 2017

I also appreciate your explanation of the deep web and the dark web. Thanks Bob.

Posted by:

Bob K
09 Jun 2017

Great! Takes a lot of mystery out of what you hear about.

I guess I contribute to the deep web. I have a couple computers running small web servers. I found out long ago that was providing a tool for some bad guys to use for denial-of-service tools. So, my web servers all are on non-standard ports -- the translation to those ports is done by the DNS system. Scans by IP address will never pick up the existence of those servers. Additionally, the basic URL gives a dummy page, with no indication of what I am providing.

I also use the TOR network, simply to protect my computer from sites that want to change my home page, give me another toolbar, and so on. And, so even the good sites I go to don't recognize me and flood me with endless ads.

Posted by:

curt mixon
09 Jun 2017

Check GRC.COM The guy that runs that is awesome - he has DOS tools to block those activities, he has web checker software to tell how safe your site is as well as your computer when you are surfing the net. I am sure there are others but his site is great.

Posted by:

09 Jun 2017

Thanks for explaining this. I have thought about using TOR to ensure my financial transactions are secure and I see they would be.

Posted by:

09 Jun 2017

Thanks for explaining this. I have thought about using TOR to ensure my financial transactions are secure and I see they would be.

Posted by:

09 Jun 2017

Thank you, Mr. Rankin.
Will that TOR browser thingy allow me to find a Russian Bride for my brother? I ordered one last year for his birthday but all I got for my bitcoins was a nicely packaged Russian Fruitcake.

Posted by:

Bill B
09 Jun 2017

Great Deep Web article. If I access using TOR, assuming I use common sense and do not click on suspect links, will my virus / malware software still protect / alert me to problems?? Thanks & keep up the good work !!

Posted by:

09 Jun 2017

An interesting novel on this subject is Make Me by Lee Child.

Posted by:

Peter Oh
10 Jun 2017

Many questions within the "Comments".
Would be great to see answers.

Posted by:

Bob Greene
10 Jun 2017

An especially well-crafted article, editorially, recogizing the social value of traffic which need not bow to any civil (or "uncivil") authority.

The Dark Web, for all its connotation of evil, is the single sustaining base for truly free international communications. As compelling proof, all the superpowers and their dictatorial client states attempt to monitor and control such communication whenever they can. hampered by only encrypted traffic of systems like Tor.

Today's citizen, with ample justification, is concerned that something said (a mere word) might bring the attention of The Authorities. Although a professional of the "intelligence community" would laugh at such fear, the danger is real enough under the wrong administration, in the wrong country and at the wrong time.

Posted by:

Eldred Coot
12 Jun 2017

How about some URL's for these interesting sites. I have much difficulty finding anything but sites with many advertisements.

Posted by:

07 Nov 2017

Thanks for that info on the dark web. Always wondered about it but never had the cojones to investigate.

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